‘Just a Friend’ rapper and Patchogue native

Biz Markie dies on July 16

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Biz Markie died on Friday, July 16, 2021, at the age of 57. Biz, also known as Marcel Theo Hall, died after battling complications from diabetes over a year’s time in a Baltimore hospital as his wife, Tara, held his hand. Born in Harlem and raised on Long Island, Biz resided on West Avenue next to what is now Donatina's Pizza Cafe.  At the time, West Avenue and South Street was a very diverse neighborhood, where everyone who lived there was like an extended family. There was also South Street Park, famous for the talented basketball players who came from all over Long Island to play against the likes of Joe Farmer, Leroy Felton, Andy Chevres, Dwayne and Penny Antonio.

Back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Biz Markie started honing his music skills at 108 South Ocean Avenue. There were three floors to the building with apartments on top, a bodega on the ground floor and a full basement, which was made into a makeshift studio.  A group of young, talented neighborhood teens (Pedro Torres, Willie Colon, Gilbert Maldonado, Jose DelValle, Victor Ruiz, Charlie Vasquez and Rafael Hernandez) who called themselves "The Grooveline Crew," would get together with their D.J. equipment and vinyl records bought from Mother's Music and make rhythmic beats.  They would "scratch" and "mix" and then rap to their songs. Biz would take the microphone and start rapping, and then add these unusual sounds with his lips, tongue and throat to the beat of the music, which we now know as "beatboxing.” He stood out because of his unique ability to make music with his mouth. Pedro Torres fondly remembers randomly naming songs and Biz beatboxing the entire tune.

Back in the day, there were many youth-oriented programs and places for teenagers to hang out in Patchogue. Other ‘crews’ were formed in Bellport, Gordon Heights, Riverhead, Bay Shore, Brentwood and Wyandanch.  In Patchogue, we were lucky enough to have a few teen clubs at the time. Mr. Mercurio, a well-respected gentleman, opened a youth-oriented club called The Music Box, located where the current St. Joseph's College Administrative Offices are next to the Roe Alleyway. A contest to name the club was held and I won a boombox for the winning entry. The name was eventually changed to Galaxy, and it was where many of the D.J./rap crews came together to verbally spar against each other, also known as a “battle.”  Breakdancing was popular back then and the breakdancers would perform to the rappers’ urban beats. The Playboy Crew represented Bellport, The Mechanix were from Gordon Heights and of course, The Grooveline Crew symbolized Patchogue.

As time went on and Biz mastered his beatboxing craft, he would disappear from time to time, traveling westbound on the Long Island Rail Road, New York City bound with stops in between. He would come back and tell us he was hanging out with legendary rap artists, Roxanne Shante, LL Cool J, DJ Diamond of EPMD, just to name a few. Sometimes we would joke with him, telling him it was a figment of his imagination. We learned to never doubt him.  

Biz moved to the Baltimore/Washington, D.C., area some time ago. But it was not unusual for you to see him on any given day walking on Main Street in Patchogue, patronizing the local businesses and eateries, performing at Alive After Five, signing autographs and taking pictures with anyone that asked.  In 2013, he performed in the Vinyl + Turntables Symposium alongside DJ Theo and Freqnik in Artspace, Patchogue, showcased by Of Colors Creative Collective founder Tracy Todd Hunter. He was also honored by Of Colors, former village trustee Lori Devlin on behalf of mayor[Paul] Pontieri and former Sen. Lee Zeldin. The Town of Brookhaven Black History Commission also recognized him for his noteworthy achievements and contributions in 2015 during Black History Month. 

When the news of his death happened, the media outlets were inundated with many tributes from many famous celebrities and friends worldwide. I received many calls from his local Patchogue-Medford friends and others, asking, What can we do to keep his memory alive? He was a friend to all. It was suggested that since he has roots and a legacy here, that a street could be named in his honor. That would be a wonderful tribute to an icon; a kind-hearted and generous human being loved by many. Rest peacefully our friend, Biz Markie.

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